The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for June 2009

Earl and Me episode 4

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I have a complete draft of the story. I’ve completed the research I wanted to do and have segmented the story how I wanted. I predicted 12 pages; I have about 13 for what feels like a 10-page story. But there is a more significant problem: It looks like a glorified research paper.

On about Monday of this week, it started to sound like my internal monologue was a broken record. I kept hearing over and over, “Oh yeah! That’s a great piece of research! I gotta get that in! Great story!” and I was doing little more than proving that I’m a skillful researcher with a talent for developing an informative and amusing profile. That’s not all bad… it is an interesting story and I have had a ton of fun writing it (which usually means the reader will enjoy reading it), but there is another level to explore here, another step to the ladder that will elevate this beyond a pretty good story into an excellent story. I know it’s there; my internal monologue tells me it is there.

So what I have to do with my next draft is to work to find that next level. I’ll start by outlining draft 1. I usually do that by making section numbers and creating a title for that section (for my own edification; I won’t use the title in the story). Then I break each section down by paragraph and list what each individual paragraph is about. This process alone usually leads to rearranging some things. Sometimes I find that a paragraph is too big, or that some of what is in the paragraph is redundant, or that it can go elsewhere in the story. This process will probably knock a page or two out of the story, which will address one of my concerns. I already know in my mind how I want to rearrange some of the story so it ties together better, so that will help. Other ideas will pop out as I make a graphic organizer of the whole piece.

The rearrangement will also help me develop a new angle to the story, an argumentative one. I want to lobby a bit on Earl’s behalf, seeing as his Hall of Fame induction was 13 years ago and he coached his last game 23 years ago, and now 2 generations of baseball fans have little idea about him other than what they can see on the video clips that I’m using as the basis for the story. But I don’t want to tip the scales too heavy in Earl’s favor. I don’t want to whitewash and glorify… hell, he was an ornery cuss. But he was also a genius. I guess I want to balance the scales since I see a huge imbalance in light of those video clips. I want to peel away the outside layers to get a nice view of what lies beneath, the stuff that usually goes unseen.

I’m still concerned, too, with bringing something fresh to the story. When my friend Matt was published in EFQ last year, he brought in a load of pretty fresh stuff on a well-known baseball figure. I see that as a key to my writing, too… which is why I have to go beyond a glorified research paper. Sure, the information he brought for the most part was stuff that many a curious fan could dig up, but it was still stuff that was largely unknown. There’s a small window for me to get fresh stuff, but I’m going to exploit it.

Finally… damn, it’s hard not to load the story with stats. Stats are a big bowl of ice cream to any baseball lover, and it’s easy to keep gorging on them. But your story is going to feel sluggish and bloated before you know it.

Written by seeker70

June 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm

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I finally got a chance to see Moon on Sunday. I don’t know why I say “Finally” since it wasn’t released until June 12. But I got advanced word about the film a few months back on Very Short List, and was significantly intrigued. VSL makes pretty sound recommendations all around, and the trailer for the film was excellent, so I’ve been waiting. The problem is that Moon isn’t in wide release. I had trouble finding it anywhere until I found it in somewhat of a specialty theatre in Evanston.

First, it takes a lot for me to see a film in the theatre. Second, it takes even more for me to see a sci-fi or horror film at all, much less in the theatre. Don’t get me wrong– I love both genres. But all too frequently both genres rely too much on computer-generated effects or gore to carry the plot. It gets tiresome, and the films end up being incredibly shallow and mostly a waste of time. Both genres work best when they are very tightly written and have something to say about the human condition, something far, far beyond “Hey- check out the cool way we filmed this!” Some excellent examples in recent years include the Danny Boyle films 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both of which scored big with me.

Moon has commentary in spades. The beautiful thing is that it holds off on it until about half way through the film. Writer / Director Duncan Jones takes his time getting things set up, even throwing in some plot twists that had me thinking deeply as I was watching. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if the film is sci-fi or not because the setting and characters are merely vehicles through which he is making his commentary. The best literature works the same way.

I was happy, as well, that Moon made allusions to several classic and highly respected sci-fi films. The most apparent references are to Outland (which itself strongly echoes High Noon), Alien (Jones himself recognized this, saying that he was heavily influenced by the first half of the film, before it kicked in to full horror-film mode), and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But there are other subtle allusions that are very meaningful in the film. The most important one is the ongoing subtext about mortality and what it means to be human, which echoed much of what Blade Runner had to say (based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). I even saw some influence from a rather obscure sci-fi film from the early 70’s, Silent Running.

Finally, I found some cinematographic choices to be interesting and integral to the themes Jones explores in the film. There are several overhead shots of the moon base that is the setting of the film. They are grainy, black and white, and filtered through some type of grid through which range and coordinates can be determined. My impression was that they were supposed to be taken from a communications satellite in orbit around the moon. They are cold, vacant shots, mirroring the conditions of life on the moon. I couldn’t help but think that Jones was reminding the viewer that God is watching all of this.

Readers: you can see that I’ve lately discovered how to make hyperlinks. I kinda feel like Charly in Flowers for Algernon when he discovers punctuation. I also make heavy use of Wikipedia with the hyperlinks in this entry. Wikipedia has solid entries about many, many films. I use it a lot and thought it might be useful to you.

Written by seeker70

June 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Earl and Me episode 3

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I almost have enough at this point for a complete draft. It’s coming in right where I expected– about 12 pages. I finally got the one book I was looking for, Weaver on Strategy. Funny, I had requested it through Interlibrary Loan on June 4. No bites for two weeks. I called my local library to double-check; no good. Finally, I drove out to Fox Lake Wednesday evening and picked it up. Then, sure enough, the book arrived through ILL today. So the book has come in twice. Even though I’ve only had it for two days, it has been indispensible to my story. I was waiting for it so I could complete two of the three sections I need to finish. Now, I have one of those sections finished and the second one well underway.

I’m thankful that I’ve learned to write in unconnected chunks. That’s how this one has come together, with me pretty much writing whatever moved my spirit at whatever time. I knew a few of the sections I wanted to write before I began to write, but then I have let the content and research dictate the rest– whatever it felt like I needed to put in, that’s what I’ve put in. Then I’ve had to decide how to connect the sections. Some of the connections appear rather naturally; I’ve had to build the bridges between other sections. The problem with building those bridges, though, is that you want to build the shortest, strongest bridge possible. Sometimes it’s just a sentence. I’ve found that if I’m writing more than 3-4 sentences, I’m making a connection where one might not necessarily belong, like I’m making the sections fit together in a way that they don’t want to fit. That rings a false note, which in turn makes me reconsider what I’m writing. It’s complicated.

Of course, through the process of all this, I’ve become somewhat of an authority on Earl Weaver. That’s one of those fringe benefits of writing creative nonfiction with a literary journalism slant. The same thing happened when I wrote about Mensa last year. The same thing happened when I wrote about poverty for my thesis. Maybe I need to start writing about winning the lottery.

Elsewhere… I’ve come to realize that this piece is more than just a casual writing about a topic I find interesting. It is officially my first piece post-graduate, and I need to know if I can write effectively outside of the academic structure that I have relied on so heavily for the last four years. I need to know if I’m making interesting choices about topics, if I’m writing and rewriting at a level effective enough to get me published. I still have some friends that will look at this, and hopefully the writers group I’m involved with with help me take it a few more steps. Nonetheless, I will be without the professorial influence that has tinged pretty much all I’ve written since I started the writing program. So, the training wheels are off. I hope I don’t skin my knees.

Written by seeker70

June 20, 2009 at 2:09 am

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Earl and Me episode 2

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I realize my habits as a writer at unusual times. One, I seem to write rather well when I’m not at home, and preferably in transit to where ever. Hence the nice chunks of writing I knocked off on the Metra back and forth to Chicago the last two days. I’ve done some great work on airplanes, too, and even at airports while I’ve waited to board a flight. If I’m not in transit, then it’s usually Panera for me. In fact, I made my glorious return to Panera last week after a two-month absence (nobody seemed to notice). Two, I’m addicted to research. This story is based almost entirely on research, and I’ve loved digging up all I can about Earl Weaver. My thesis was based heavily on research, too, and I got a lot of satisfaction from dealing with it. I love becoming an expert on whatever subject I’m writing about; I also embrace the challenge of getting the research into the writing in creative and interesting ways.

Speaking of getting the research into the writing… this story is relies more on research than anything else I’ve written. The challenge all along has been to write something, though, that gives the reader something new, something that provides a new angle on things, something that leaves the reader better off than they were when they started reading the piece. So I’ve had to think about how to go beyond the research. Most anybody can find the facts I’m using after surfing the internet for about an hour, so why read the story? That’s why I’ve been relying on a video clip to announce the purpose of the writing, and why I keep returning to the clip throughout the writing to digress at certain points and flesh out interesting and informative angles that the average reader wouldn’t know, or would have a helluva hard time finding. In many ways, the research is providing the backstory for the video clip. I also have a small personal angle on this story that I just wrote about today. I will be in the story, but I’ll be less present in it than anything else I’ve written.

And speaking of getting myself into the story… I knew I had seen something that was classic Earl Weaver at a ballgame last year, and I knew I wanted to write about it in this story. I specifically remember pointing the situation out to my friend and saying: “That’s classic Earl Weaver.” So I had to dig through my scorecards from last year to find it. My first time through wasn’t enough. I thought I remembered in my minds eye where I was sitting when it happened and I was confused when what I was looking for wasn’t where I thought it was supposed to be, but upon my second time through the scorecards, I realized that I wasn’t sitting where I thought I was. So my memory had flipped around and changed perspectives on me. Which is all the more reason why research is so important, because memory is not fact (I wrote the same thing last December in Thesis Blues pt. 3). But I found what I was looking for this afternoon and was so excited I cranked out a page and half to get it stitched into the story.

Written by seeker70

June 14, 2009 at 9:53 pm

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Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger… Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda…

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist has appeared as a periodic contributor to The Seeker since last September as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Note: this posting is over a month old; I’m still getting over the burnout from writing my thesis… my apologies for old information… Jeff

Friends, there are so many things I wish I could tell you about right now, so I’ll do my best and tell you what I can this time, and I’ll save the rest for another.

First of all, let me just say that I can’t wait to get back to college. When I first went to college, I went because it was the “thing to do,” and because the National Guard was willing to pay for it as long as I was still in the Army. But now, when I return in the fall, I will have a newfound appreciation for education and my opportunities to have it. This is mainly because how much I see the Afghans covet an education that I take for granted. Most of the Afghans I’ve talked to have a lifelong goal of attending any university in America. To me, that seems so foreign. Isn’t attending a university the very thing that I’ve always felt got in the way of my life? And here these Afghans are, gnashing their teeth in an attempt to get into an American school.

Of course America is educationally advanced, especially compared to Afghanistan. And in fact, America seems to be advanced in almost every way: economically, politically, intellectually, and militarily, to name a few. However, there is one area in which Americans lag behind Afghans: morality. For the Afghans, they find that some of the crimes that Americans commit to be completely appalling. For instance, it is unheard of that an Afghan would kill his entire family after losing a job. Yet in America, news like this frequently hits headlines. One Afghan I talked to believes this is because we don’t have a war on our land, nor have any of us ever experienced war on our own soil. Too few Americans understand what it means to be loyal to your country, except for what happened on September 11th, 2001. For the Afghans, they’ve experienced terrorism most every day on their land since they were born. As a result, they are dedicated to bettering their country at all costs, being loyal to the land until death. And as far as killing a family member or a friend or even an innocent stranger? It’s incomprehensible. Instead of killing each other, they’ve always had a collective enemy on their land, which drives them to want to be better people for their country.

Now, that’s not to say that Afghans are perfect people, or that they don’t struggle with some of the same things that Americans do. In fact, just this week I had an interpreter beg me to find him a porno magazine, trying to convince me that “it’s the democratic thing to do.” Furthermore, the Afghan government is not always forgiving of things that violate their culture. For example, the Afghans gave me some insight into their punishment system. For a man who has sex with a woman outside of marriage, he receives 80 lashings. For women who lose their virginity before marriage, they are stoned. And if you were to have homosexual intercourse, a large wall would be pushed over onto you. If you are still alive after the 15 minutes, then someone will pull you out. So, while Afghans seem to try to uphold what they consider traditional values, it seems to come at the expense of vile and cruel punishments. And while I only heard about these “rules” and have not firsthand seen or heard about this happening to someone, it does make me better appreciate the justice system in America in the event that these punishments really do happen.

SGT Bandee’s lack of adventure last month has already been rectified in full by the things he’s been through since my last update. I considered editing some of the things he said because of the offensive nature of his way of describing things, but I’ve decided to leave it unedited.“Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to leave on the convoy, it dawned on me that the mission I was about the go on was, in fact, another dangerous mission. To get to where we were going, I would again have to get through IED alley (also known as Route Idaho). But it was another soldier that put the situation in perspective for me: the soldier, one who was on a mission the day before that got attacked, said to me, “Hey, at least you’re not going down Route Virginia!” That’s when I realized that at least that was true: after all, Route Virginia was probably the most dangerous route in the area at the moment, as that was the route that the convoy was attacked on, not to mention that there were two known pressure plate IED’s placed on the road somewhere, just waiting for a convoy to be the first to roll over it.

“The convoy made it through IED alley and to our destination with no complications, but while we were there, the command decreed that there was another necessary mission that had to be completed, and so it was decided that we would try and complete it on this day. And so, we began heading back down IED alley. Except, after we got through IED alley, we wouldn’t be heading towards Gardez, where we came from. Instead, we had to head out to a small Afghan National Army (ANA) base out in the middle of nowhere… an ANA base that was off of Route Virginia. And so, we trekked down the most dangerous road in Paktya province as the sun was setting on the day.

“Riding down Route Idaho and Route Virginia all in one day was one of the rockiest experiences of my life. The seat I was sitting on in the vehicle (known as a Cougar) was directly above the wheel, and every bump sent me flying in the air. Both Idaho and Virginia are unpaved roads, and so maybe you can imagine how bumpy it was. If you’ve ever played “break the egg” on a trampoline, then you have an idea of how it felt to be in that Cougar. Except, in the Cougar, when I flew in the air, I wasn’t falling down towards a trampoline; it was instead a hard seat, and I was surrounded by bags and weapons that continuously flew onto me. When I’d get launched in the air, I didn’t always land on my butt; in fact, after my body repeatedly crushed my nuts upon impact, I remember yelling out at one point, “I wish I had a vagina!” The trip was like a roller coaster from hell, and it lasted all day long. It even got to the point that I eventually learned how to react so quickly that, while in mid-flight, I’d extend my legs to stand and press my hands on the top of the ceiling so I could better stabilize myself. Near the end of Route Virginia, there was a dead body– an Afghan, covered with a plastic sheet, lying on top of a grave off to the side of the rocky road. I felt fortunate that, even though today was going to have its unpleasantness, at least I wasn’t that dude.

“To get to the ANA base, we had to travel offroad for a couple miles. We arrived to the ANA base with no complications, except for the fact that we didn’t have enough sunlight to make it back to Gardez. And so, we stayed at this small ANA compound that simply consisted of a 10,000 square foot area that was closed in by some Hesco barriers. We were out in the middle of a field, literally sharing the space with an Afghan shepherd and his flock. We were completely exposed with several mountains off in the distance. I couldn’t help but think how easy if would be for the enemy to launch mortars from there. There were no buildings in this compound, nor any real facilities (i.e., flushing bathrooms, chow hall, or lodging). We were either going to have to sleep in our vehicles or sleep outside on the ground. There were some cots, but not enough for everybody. Many of us anticipated getting attacked that night, so we decided that everyone needed to pull guard shifts. Fortunately, because there were so many of us, we only would have to pull one-hour shifts. We had officially settled in The Middle of Nowhere, Afghanistan.

“That night, I laid down my sleeping bag on the rocks right near our commander, Colonel Larsen, knowing that if we were attacked, I would dedicate myself to protecting his life. I settled into my sleeping bag with my rifle and looked up at the stars. I acknowledged that, today, I had been up and down some of the most dangerous (and bumpy) roads in Afghanistan, I didn’t have any shelter above me, I was very vulnerable to an attack, and here I was, lying on the ground on top of some large rocks. At that moment, I finally acknowledged how miserable I felt. No, not miserable for myself, but for you. I felt miserable for everyone who wasn’t going to fall asleep like I was, able to spend my entire night watching God’s craftsmanship above me. I felt miserable for everyone who has never experienced what I’ve been privileged to experience. And, I felt miserable that there were so few moments like this that I would get to enjoy in my life.

“I looked up to the sky and prayed that God ensure it didn’t rain this night, even though it already was cloudless and most likely going to be a dry night. I also had to pray that He protected all of us that night from snakes and scorpions. And just before I shut my eyes, a shooting star shot through the sky. I smiled and closed my eyes, cuddling my rifle, ready to defend this base in the case of a likely attack.

“0300 hours rolled around, and the soldier on guard shift woke me up. It was my turn to man the night cameras mounted in the Cougar. I got out of bed, put on my boots, and carefully watched the cameras for the next hour. I scanned for any suspicious activity, searching my zone for any possible Talibs. When my hour was up, I woke up my relief, and headed back to my sleeping bag and crawled back inside.

“A couple hours later, as the sun shined above me, I felt something poking at me. The night had gotten very windy and therefore very cold, so I was completely cocooned in my sleeping bag when the poking woke me up. I wondered if it was a scorpion, or a snake. I poked my head out and saw a little puppy back away. I couldn’t help but laugh. That is, until I realized he had my boot in his mouth, and had already carried it much farther than an arm’s length away.

“I yelled at him, “Hey! Hey!” as if he would know I wanted my boot back. He continued running around with it, and eventually I had to get out and chase him in my socks on the rocks. I got my boot back and went back to sleep, but not without first putting my boots inside my sleeping bag. When I finally woke up for the day a few hours later, I found out that after the puppy got bored with trying to get my boots, it took COL Larsen’s boots and dragged them to a ditch.

“As I got out of the sleeping bag this morning, I was very sore. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the bumpy convoy or from sleeping on jagged rocks. I imagine it was a combination of both. But, shortly after we all woke up, we were all ready to drive back down Route Virginia to get back to FOB Lightning. As I walked to an area that I could take a leak, the puppy followed me, biting my boots as I walked.

“Before we left the base on the convoy, we were heeded one warning: if anybody was to see any motorcyclists driving parallel to us, we needed to immediately call it in, because that cyclist would most likely turn out to be a Taliban spotter that was following us to blow us up at the opportune moment.

“Route Virginia was a little bit different than it had been the day before: today, there were no children, which is almost always a bad sign. When there’s no children playing outside on a warm day, that usually means they were forewarned that there would be an attack. If that wasn’t bad enough, as we traveled, the villagers stopped what they were doing and stared at our convoy as it passed them, as if they knew we were hiding Santa Claus in one of our trucks.

“To further raise anxieties, within minutes of our convoy, the very thing we were warned about appeared. An Afghan on a motorcycle was waiting for us off the road, and when we neared him, he began driving parallel to us. When we stopped, he would stop, and when we sped up, he’d speed up. The entire time, the cyclist kept his eyes on our Cougar, as if trying to figure out the timing of the vehicle’s movement. There was no question about it: we were in the enemy’s crosshairs. But, because of the rules of engagement, we couldn’t do anything about it because we had no proof he was a member of the Taliban. As we continued on our route, a soldier witnessed an Afghan watching us from an alley, and it was quickly determined that there was a good chance the Afghan was a spotter in cohoots with the motorcyclist still riding beside us.

“COL Larsen said to me over the radio, “Sergeant, if an IED goes off, I want you to dismount and tackle the guy on the bike.” This excited me, and I responded, “Roger, sir!” Then, the Colonel made it clear he was joking, to which I made it clear I was not. I explained to him that I would be more than willing to do it. He chuckled and said, “Yeah, I know you would.” As we traveled on, we prepared ourselves for an explosion, if not from the motorcyclist, then at least from one of the two pressure plates that we had somehow avoided the day before.

“But amazingly, once again, this story doesn’t end in the expected way. Instead, after a certain point, the motorcyclist slowed down and eventually faded away in our rearview mirrors. And from there, we successfully made it back to FOB Lightning, unscathed. Today, we weren’t blown up as we anticipated. And sure, there’s a possibility that the jamming system on our Cougar prevented the explosion from occurring when the trigger man pressed the button. Or, there’s also the possibility that everything was a coincidence: the kids weren’t out today because they were busy with chores inside; the Afghans gawking at us just moved into town and had never seen an American presence before; the motorcyclist was intrigued by our vehicle and just wanted to study it in action; the “spotter” perhaps was just a man who enjoys dwelling in dark alleys; maybe we got lucky and just barely missed the pressure plates. Could be. Yet, how can I see all the evidence and not lift my eyes to God, thanking Him for being the source of my protection?”

I’ve had several people ask when I will be coming home, and when and where I am transferring. Well, I’ll tell you exactly what the military has told me. Last month, we were told that our entire brigade would be home before August 29th, and that the information about our transfer wasn’t known yet. Last week, we were told that we would be transferring to Helmand or Kandahar on June 10th, but we would leave the country altogether in late July. Today, we were told that we are transferring to western Afghanistan (Herat province) on June 14th, and that we would leave the country altogether on September 9th. And, I’m positive that within the last hour, that latest timeframe, too, has become obsolete. So, to answer your questions as clearly as I can with the information I’ve been provided: I will be transferring to an undisclosed place in Afghanistan at an undisclosed time, and will leave the country altogether in the undisclosed future. That being said, I know at least that I will be leaving Afghanistan earlier than September 29th, as God told me in December. Believe me on that one.

Until then, peace out my brethren and sisthren.

Thank you, and God bless!

Happy Mudda’s day!

love, Nate

Written by seeker70

June 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

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Earl and Me episode 1

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I think I’ve shaken my case of the Thesis Blues, though I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m meeting with my second reader today, and I will most likely return to my thesis at some point if I want to pursue publication. It’s been almost two months since I finished, and this is how many quality sessions of writing I have logged since then: One. I’ve done some writing, of course, but have had but one quality session in which I was focused for a few hours and felt like I did some quality work. But I have worked on about 4 poems, and started my next piece. But hey- the school year is over, I’m almost finished working on my condo, and I’m not taking any classes this summer. So hey dude… let’s party!

Speaking of my next piece, I’m working on something about Baseball Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. I got the idea after watching (and rewatching… and rewatching… and rewatching…) a YouTube clip of the notorious coach in which he argues with umpire Bill Haller. It’s vintage Weaver, and hilarious to say the least. I thought there might be an idea for a story there, so I started doing some research. I uncovered a lot about Weaver, both his career and his life, and am trying to piece some things together. It’s been fun so far, which is probably why I’ve been encouraged to keep at it. This will also be a short piece. I’ll be stunned if it comes in over 12 pages.

My challenge will be to come up with something new for the reader. The book has pretty much been written on Weaver; in fact, there are three books out there with his name on them– one is a memoir, one a book on strategy, and I think the third one is a biography. So I’m trying to find a fresh angle. My goal is to get the story published in Elysian Fields Quarterly, a literary journal dedicated entirely to baseball. I set this as a goal because I want to prove that I can hang with the writers and editors of the publication. EFQ has rejected two of my pieces in the past two years; I’m almost certain there’s a third I sent that won’t get published, either. They just haven’t notified me yet.

I am enjoying the research for this piece. It helps that I’m a life-long Orioles fan and that I love baseball. One thing I’ve enjoyed the most is proving a particular website wrong. claimed something regarding Weaver happened in 1985 when it actually happened in 1975. Aside from that, I’ve done about 75% of the research I need to do, have read it and notated it, and am sewing it in as seemlessly as possible as I write. That was a trick I added to my bag when I was writing my thesis. I listened to the interviews over and over so as to avoid the drudgery of transcribing them and so I could write instinctually as much as possible. I got great results; the same thing seems to be happening right now. I’ve also found that even though I don’t have a structure for the piece yet, I have been able to write different episodes at different times without worrying about how a particular episode is going to fit into the whole story.

Finally… I changed the subheading for this blog. I’m now referring to The Seeker as “A meta-cognitive journal about writing… Plus other stuff.” I figured I might as well do that since it seems so much of my content is about what I’m writing. Plus, the blog has proven to be a great way to sort out my thoughts and keep friends and family abreast of what I’m doing. If they’re interested. If!

Written by seeker70

June 8, 2009 at 2:44 pm

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Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger; Heroes and Spiritual Convictions

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist has appeared as a periodic contributor to The Seeker since last September as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Note: this posting is over a month old; I’m still getting over the burnout from writing my thesis… my apologies for old information… Jeff

Hello from the aching body of SGT Danger!

In the past recent months, I’ve been visiting the medics every now and then, as my back has becoming ever weaker. When I put on my body armor, I feel the weight of this entire war on my back. On Easter morning, I woke up and my lower back was aching, and my feet felt so heavy that I was almost walking with a limp. I had pain from the bottom of my back through to my right hip and down the leg. The pain stopped at the knee, but began again just below my ankle in my foot. My ankle was numb, which is at least less agonizing than the pain in my body. So, I went to the doctor on the FOB and was diagnosed with a bulged disc, also known as a herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, also known as a really screwed up back. The doctor gave me some medicine, and that’s helped so far, but it still hurts to lie down at night. I may be 22, but my body feels like it’s 72.

But, on a more positive note, I am currently alive. As a Christian, I’m not particularly afraid of death, but after talking with my Muslim friends, I realize that not every religion has an idealistic view of what happens after you die. My Terp has expressed great fear towards death, and after he explained why he’s afraid of death as a Muslim, I can’t really blame him, because it sounds less-than-pleasant: when a Muslim dies, they believe that the walls around them will begin closing in, and eventually their body will be crushed by the walls. And, as they’re pinned against the walls, animals surround them and begin eating their bodies as punishment for their sins. As the Muslim is being punished in the spiritual world, families are quickly notified that their loved one has died, and they immediately drop everything they’re doing and travel to their loved one’s funeral, which occurs just hours after they have died (keep in mind that Islam countries don’t have the same embalming procedures that we do). And unlike other religions that see death as an immediate escape to your body, Muslims believe they are present for their funeral. As they are lowered into the ground just hours after they’ve died, their head is tilted to look towards their holy land of Mecca, and the soul within the body begins screaming out for the family to hear them. The Muslim yells as loudly as he or she can without moving their physical body, “Please don’t leave me! I’m here! Don’t go!” Yet, the families that are still alive in the physical world are unable to hear them. If someone were to hear their loved ones’ screams, they would die instantly and join them in the afterlife. But, as for the animals, they can hear perfectly the shrieking of the soul, yet they keep the cries they’ve heard to themselves, unable to communicate it to humans. Later, the soul departs to its judgment, and if the Muslim has more good works than bad, then they will enter paradise. For the average Afghan, their life expectancy is 45 years old, and though that seems like a young age, it certainly has greatly improved from recent years. However, that life expectancy average will mean nothing if the end of times arrives, because in that case, you will die anyway. And unlike the Jewish and Christian religions, if you are alive when the end of times arrives in the Islam faith, then you don’t get to bypass this experience of death, because everyone is destined to endure physical death. However, like Christianity’s end of times is great news for Christians and awful news for non-believers, Islam’s end of times is great news for Muslims and awful news for non-followers of Muhammad.

And how exactly does the end of the world occur in Islam? Though there are a few variations depending on the specific Muslim sect you’re looking in, it’s generally accepted that a very important figure in the Islam faith, a man named the Mahdi, will appear on earth in the last days, right after an angel blasts a trumpet to sound the arrival of the end times. And interestingly enough, the Mahdi will be bringing a very powerful sidekick: that of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believe did not return to heaven (nor that he was crucified), but instead Jesus has been in some kind of suspension since his death. After Jesus reappears, he will come and destroy many evil-doers, including the anti-Christ, and will confirm Islam as the true religion. After 40 years, Jesus will die and be buried next to Muhammad. And, Allah will have a large role as well when he destroys all non-Islamic nations, and even destroys all the angels in the spiritual world.

However, a few signs will accompany the Mahdi in preparation for such devastation to the world, such as the arrival of violence and plagues, the sun rising from the west, a star appearing in the east that shines as bright as the moon, Arabs taking back their land, a caller calling from heaven, Syria suffering a great war until it’s destroyed (which is similar in some ways to the Bible’s take as well), and death and fear afflicting the people in Iraq, especially Baghdad.

But, let me bring you back to earth for a second, because we’re still here, and the end times hasn’t come just yet. If you’re wondering how our “ministry” portion is going here in Afghanistan, here’s your answer: SGT Bandee has had quite the discouraging month. Bandee intended on going to three fairly remote locations to visit with the troops that don’t get many visitors: Command Outpost (COP) Zormat, COP Herrera, and COP Curry. Well, Bandee arrived to COP Zormat just fine, but quickly found that his efforts were in vain because 1) the troops he intended on visiting were out on a week-long mission, 2) for those that remained on COP Zormat, there was a chaplain already present when he arrived, and 3) the troops that were out on a mission had a chaplain with them the whole time. And so, the command made it fairly clear to Bandee that his presence was not needed, and ultimately, Bandee wasted 4 days getting stuck at the COP. Bandee cut his losses and headed back towards Gardez, Afghanistan. To get there, he had to get on a convoy and go down what is known as “IED Alley,” but Bandee fortunately made it without firsthand having to learn why that route is nicknamed as such. Unfortunately, the convoy led Bandee to Gardez, Afghanistan… just not the same FOB within Gardez that he wanted to get to. The FOB he was trying to get back to is my FOB, FOB Lightning. The one he ended up at was FOB Goode, which is less than a mile down the road from Lightning. While he was there, he told me:“I found myself waking up in Goode this morning, trying once again to find a means back to Lightning. Again, I’ve had no luck today. There were no convoys that were able to take me, and so I’ve spent most of my day at the helipad, trying to catch a chopper to go one minute out of their way. I even found myself once on a chopper, but just before I sat down and prepared for the 30 second trip, I was told to get off, and that they’d get me later because Lightning was not on their way.

“I became very frustrated at this point, and walked to the Entry Control Point (ECP), also known as the front gate. I looked across and saw the mile ahead to my home FOB, and thought about just walking the mile back. But, preferring not to become a prisoner of war (POW) at my tender age, nor wanting to feel the fury of an angry commander for me endangering my life, I decided not to walk out there by myself.

“That being said, I still wanted to find a way across the road to get to my home FOB by any means necessary. As I was contemplating how to get across, I came across a local Afghan who was in his car leaving FOB Goode to go home, wherever he lived. I told him my predicament, and he knew enough English to understand what I was saying and offered me a ride. Again, the idea didn’t pass the common sense test that went off in my head, but I still got in the cab with the man, desperate to get back. It seemed like the idea would have worked well had the Team Chief at the ECP stopped me from doing it. And so now I’m again at the helipad, waiting for a flight that is supposedly going to come in and take me to FOB Lightning, which is close enough that I could fart and you would be able to smell it from where you stand.”

Eventually, Bandee made it back to Lightning late that night, and the next morning he was again on a helicopter, riding toward new adventures that never actually happened. He arrived at COP Herrera, but found a similar situation that he ran into at Zormat: the soldiers were out on a mission and wouldn’t be back before he left. And so, Bandee did a service for those that were present at COP Herrera, then left the next day to Salerno.

Salerno is the same place where Bandee got mortared, and the reason he had to go back there was because it’s a main hub for flights that go out to the distant bases, like COP Curry, which is where he was headed next. However, Bandee never made it to Curry. He got on a flight to Curry, but along the way, bad weather rolled in and so the chopper wasn’t ever able to land at the base. So, instead of meeting soldiers, he spent all day flying around Afghanistan in a helicopter. The next flight to Curry wasn’t going to happen for another 6 days, and so I told him to abandon the mission and get back to FOB Lightning. The next day, he arrived back to this home FOB after a 4-hour flight, and he looked absolutely worn out as he walked off the chopper. He also told me he was nauseous from the chopper’s fumes and the constant turbulence.

Speaking of Bandee, let me just say first that I like him. I really do. And, often, I get emails from some of you calling him a “hero” and that he’s brave for what he’s doing. But for me, it’s funny, thinking about this hero stuff. I look around, and I don’t see heroes. I see a bunch of guys I eat dinner with and talk to. Yeah, they go out and do things that might kill them, but they don’t feel like heroes to me, just because we’re us. Heroes are things of stories, not our realities. Say there was a story in which a guy goes out, gets shot at, saves a buddy’s life, and kills the enemy. The story would seem a lot more heroic if it didn’t have one of our names attached to the story. It just feels like here, no matter what we do, we can’t be heroes. When we go home, people are going to call us “hero,” no doubt. In fact, people called me a hero before I even stepped foot in Afghanistan, when in fact I may be a coward. How can I know? I haven’t been tested. But the reason I say all this is because so many people speak of Bandee as being brave, as being a hero, and I don’t see it at all. I see him as my friend that I eat and pray with. Bandee is a guy who has the same blood as me, just a dude that I share exactly the same thoughts with. He’s exactly the same as me. He’s not a hero, he’s just my friend.

Let me shift gears for a second here for a moment. It was back in 2002 that one of my favorite movies was released, Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. But, as much as I love the movie, there’s a scene in it that, whenever I used to watch it, I thought it was a waste to have in the movie. Every time I’d have to sit through the scene, I’d get frustrated, feeling like the director had wasted my time with a scene that had no real significance to the movie. The scene is as follows: Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Merrill Hess, walks out of his house and approaches the cornfield on his brother’s property. Lately, there had been several “signs” embedded in cornfields around the world (including his brother’s cornfield he was looking out at), and many people were starting to believe that aliens had been the perpetrators, as crazy as it sounded. Merrill Hess found himself at a point where he just started accepting that so-called aliens were, indeed, the cause of all the cornfield damage. As Merrill Hess looked out at the cornfield right by his house, staring at unseen dangers and the mystery of the unknown, he became agitated and picked up a rock and chucked it as far into the cornfield as he could. And for a young viewer like me, I didn’t quite understand the scene. It seemed a waste of 50 seconds of my life. But now, when I think about that scene, I can’t help but appreciate it, and feel like it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, because I finally “get it.” Merrill Hess is so frustrated because he’s in the middle of something he doesn’t quite understand, but from what he does understand about it, he knows that it’s a dangerous situation he’s in. There’s something extraordinary going on around him, and he knows the situation has slowly been escalating to a climax that will surely soon unleash all its wrath on him. He doesn’t know exactly where the danger is, but he knows it’s out there, somewhere, just watching him.

In the same way, I stand looking out across the gates that keep me “safe” as the sun retreats for the day, and I see the city lights ahead in the distance, just a few miles away. And in just an hour’s time, that sun will completely disappear and I will find myself in the most dangerous time to be a soldier at war: during nightfall, when the enemy can attack while remaining unseen. But, as I look across my gates, I become frustrated, and I speak to the wind aloud, hoping it might carry my questions down to the threats that dwell in the city in the distance: “Where are you? I know you’re out there. And tonight, you’re contemplating attacking my FOB; attacking me. Show yourself and fight like a man. Stop keeping me in constant anticipation of what you might do. Tell me, where are you?” The wind carries my anxieties down to the city, but doesn’t return to give me a response. When I realize that there’s nothing I can do about the enemy that is hunting me at that moment, I become agitated, yet all I can do is throw a rock on the soil just outside my gates.

That being said, it’s amazing that my FOB has not come under attack yet. Though, I found out this week exactly why I haven’t been attacked. Just last year, the FOB I’m at was under constant attack . In fact, there was a 14-day period where the FOB was attacked 12 different times. The last attack this FOB endured was in October of last year, and there’s good reason as to why it was the last attack. You see, it is believed that it was the same two Taliban that were attacking the FOB throughout the course of the year. But, on one October night, a large explosion was heard outside the perimeter gates of the FOB. When the Quick Reaction Force went out and investigated, they found what remained of one Talib, and another Talib who was severely injured. The two perpetrators had accidentally blown themselves up. One of them was killed instantly, and the surviving terrorist was arrested. And now, there’s somewhat of a peace in the immediate area.

I just wish it was like that all over, though. But it’s not. Often, killing a Talib is similar to mowing down a mushroom on your lawn. Yeah, you killed that specific mushroom, but days later, you have a multitude of mushrooms growing right where you mowed down that one. So, in this specific war, the question is this: how can we stop more Taliban from appearing after we kill or arrest one?

In my opinion, there’s two ways to do this: first, cut down the mushrooms at the root. In this case, that’s Pakistan. Most of the terrorists are being bred and arriving from Pakistan, and unless we launch an offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan, the Taliban in Afghanistan may never be completely eradicated. But, that’s unappealing to me for several reasons: the time and money that would be spent on such an offensive would certainly take a toll on our country, and that’s not to mention the lives we’ve already sacrificed. And so, unless it was a war that President Obama knew we could swiftly win, that’s obviously not a great choice.

The other option is to educate the Mullahs of the interpretation that non-radical Muslims have of the Qur’an. The Mullahs could, in turn, preach that same message to the peoples in the villages. As the Mullahs are the most prominent religious Islamic figures in most villages, by having them preach tolerance, they would in turn cause their people to become more tolerant. Again, the thought is not foolproof, and such a task is a lot more difficult than it looks on paper. Yet, at the same time, if we could focus more energy on this idea, then it’s very possible we’d have less radical Muslims wanting to kill us infidels.

That’s about it for now. I know this update wasn’t as action-packed as previous emails… you can blame Bandee for that. Just kidding. (But, no, seriously, it really is his fault. Blame him.)

Thank you, and God bless!

Written by seeker70

June 3, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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